Wang Ching-wei

The Chinese revolutionary leader Wang Ching-wei (1883-1944) was an early follower of Sun Yat-sen and served as president and prime minister of the Nationalist government. During World War II he headed the Japanese puppet regime at Nanking.

Born at Canton in a minor gentry family, Wang Ching-wei was a brilliant student in traditional Chinese subjects. A good poet, an excellent calligrapher, and a master of Chinese prose, he later became a powerful orator. In 1903 he passed the first civil service examination and won a government scholarship to Japan. He earned a degree at Tokyo Law College and was a founding member of a revolutionary association, the T'ung Meng Hui. A major propagandist for the revolution, he became a national figure through an abortive attempt to assassinate the prince regent in 1910, which left him in jail until after the 1911 Revolution. He played a major role in negotiations between the revolutionaries and Yüan Shih-k'ai over the new government organization in 1912.

Wang married Ch'en Pi-chün in 1912 and left for France to further his education. He returned in 1917 and again became an active supporter of Sun Yat-sen. After Sun's death in 1925, Wang was made head of the Kuomintang party (KMT) and of its revolutionary government. He was forced to flee the revolutionary territory by Chiang Kai-shek's military coup in 1926, returning early in 1927. As head of the Nationalists' Wuhan government, Wang continued to support the Communist alliance for several months after Chiang's Shanghai coup in April but broke with the Communists himself in July. Forced out of his leadership position in the KMT, Wang became the chief opponent of Chiang in the party. He supported attempts to overthrow Chiang from 1929 to 1932.

As a result of the Manchurian incident in late 1931, Wang and Chiang formed a coalition to support a policy of minimal resistance to Japanese encroachment until the Chinese government could be strengthened. Wang was prime minister until the end of 1935, when he was forced to retire for medical reasons after being shot by an assassin.

With the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937, Chiang's control of the party increased, and, although Wang held high position in the government, he was powerless. Hoping to ease the suffering of the helpless Chinese people in the war, avoid a Communist victory, and weaken Chiang's power, Wang urged a peace settlement with Japan. In December 1938 he fled China and ultimately accepted Japanese assurances of autonomy as head of a new regime in occupied China. In effect, he became a puppet of the Japanese until his death, resulting from an attempt to remove the bullet left from the 1935 attack.

Further Reading on Wang Ching-wei

Some of Wang's writings have been translated into English. The Poems of Wang Ching-wei (trans. 1938) has an introduction to his life and work by T. Sturge Moore. Wang's China's Problems and Their Solution (trans. 1934) contains a biographical sketch of him by T'ang Leang-li. There is no standard biography of Wang. The best study of him in English is T'ang Leang-li, Wang Ching-wei: A Political Biography (1931), which was intended to support his career. The biography by Don Bates, Wang Ching Wei, Puppet or Patriot (1941), also presents him in a favorable light. For general background see O. M. Green, The Story of China's Revolution (1945); Ch'ien Tuan-sheng, The Government and Politics of China (1950); and Li Chien-nung, The Political History of China, 1840-1928 (trans. 1956).